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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the first day of CPAC on Feb. 24 in Orlando, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 24 in Orlando, Florida. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images, file

Why Florida’s Ron DeSantis suspended an elected state attorney

An elected prosecutor in Florida said he wouldn't enforce abortion bans, so Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis replaced the state attorney with someone else.


In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has already imposed abortion restrictions. But after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Republican governor vowed to go further and "expand" restrictions on reproductive rights.

What does that mean in practical terms? No one seems to have any idea, and DeSantis — facing a re-election campaign in a state with the nation’s third-highest abortion rate — has so far refused to tell voters what he plans to do on this issue if given a second term.

But in politics, actions often speak louder than words, and today, the GOP governor went after a Florida prosecutor who won’t prosecute abortion cases the way Republicans want. The Hill reported:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Thursday for “neglect of duty” after the prosecutor refused to enforce bans on abortion and transgender surgery.

“Not enforcing the law, that’s a neglect of duty,” the governor argued at a press conference this morning. “That, quite frankly, is incompetence by Florida law. Saying you’re not going to enforce the law is a dereliction of duty.” DeSantis further accused Warren of “flagrantly” violating his oath of office.

That’s not quite right.

Warren was first elected by Hillsborough County voters in 2016, and has been re-elected since. It’s no secret that the prosecutor has been a leading voice in Florida for criminal justice reforms and progressive causes.

To that end, Warren joined a variety of other elected prosecutors in signing a joint statement — in effect, publicly expressing an opinion — criticizing state laws that punish physicians who perform gender-affirming health care. The state attorney has also pledged not to prosecute those who receive or perform abortions in Hillsborough County.

And so, DeSantis pushed him out of office, claiming that Warren had refused to “enforce the law.”

There are a few angles to this that are worth keeping in mind.

First, in reality, prosecutors routinely exercise discretion over the kinds of cases they and their offices will pursue. To hear DeSantis tell it, Warren was simply sitting on his hands, indifferent to crimes. But this is a situation in which an elected state attorney and an ambitious Republican governor differed over prosecutorial priorities, which is a far cry from “a neglect of duty.”

A Tampa Bay Times report added, DeSantis’ order suspending the state attorney "does not cite any specific examples of Warren not prosecuting individual cases, pointing instead to Warren’s public comments on abortion, transgender issues and office policies Warren has adopted."

Second, DeSantis has been accused of authoritarian pursuits, and this morning’s move probably won’t help in that regard. After all, the people of Hillsborough County elected Warren more than once. The governor could’ve tried to help elect a rival candidate in the next election, but instead, DeSantis took it up on himself to suspend the prosecutor and install someone that he likes better.

In effect, the governor told Hillsborough County voters, “Sure, you may have chosen a state attorney through the democratic process, but I think I know better.”

And third, it seems easy under the circumstances to think DeSantis fired the prosecutor in the hopes of enforcing the kind of abortion policies the governor generally doesn’t like to talk about.